Legislative Update for Week Ending March 25, 2016

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 25, 2016

This week, one House subcommittee met to discuss the Social Security benefits of public servants like teachers, police officers, and firefighters. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for one new bill.

Subcommittee Discusses Social Security Windfall

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing on the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), two provisions that arbitrarily reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of public employees. They were enacted in 1983 in an attempt to bring fairness to the system for those who receive government pensions and earn Social Security benefits, but they have not worked as intended.

Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (TX-3) explained the origin of the issue in his opening statement, saying: “Both the House and Senate wanted to modify the benefit formula for those workers who spent part of their careers not paying Social Security taxes. I guess it should come as no surprise that the House and Senate didn’t agree on the numbers … As tends to happen here they ended up somewhere in the middle.”

Making matters worse, many who are impacted by the WEP and GPO are unaware of their existence until they file for benefits and retire. Chairman Johnson said on Tuesday, “The Social Security statement that is required by law shows them … the amount of Social Security benefits they would receive if the WEP and GPO didn’t exist. These workers, just like every other American, have a right to know what their Social Security benefits will be so they can best prepare for their retirements.”

Since the WEP and GPO were created decades ago, lawmakers have been working on better alternatives. At Tuesday’s hearing, those on the subcommittee discussed a bill – the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (H.R. 711) – that could be a promising solution. If signed into law, it would provide immediate relief to current retirees affected by adjusting their Social Security benefits. According to Stephen Goss – the Social Security Administration’s Chief Actuary – around 80 percent would see benefit increases of approximately 20 percent.

In addition, new retirees in 2017 or later would no longer have their benefits reduced by the WEP. Instead, all earnings would be considered when determining Social Security benefits. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (TX-8) – the sponsor of H.R. 711 – explained on Tuesday, “No more unfair formula … Instead, we use the same benefit formula for everyone, looking at all earnings. And if some of those earnings aren’t from Social Security covered employment, we adjust benefits to reflect the proportion that are.”

TSCL is pleased that lawmakers in Congress are finally making progress on a solution that would give public servants the retirement security they have earned and deserve. The bill currently has more than sixty cosponsors, with support on both sides of the aisle. Following the hearing, TSCL sent a letter to the subcommittee in support of it. In the months ahead, we will encourage lawmakers to sign on to the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act as cosponsors, and we hope to see it signed into law before the end of this year.

TSCL Supports New Anti-Fraud Bill

This week, TSCL endorsed the Social Security Fraud Prevention Act (H.R. 3779), sponsored by Congressman David Valadao (CA-21). If signed into law, the bill would prevent instances of identity theft by removing or partially redacting Social Security numbers from government-issued documents.

According to Rep. Valadao, approximately 13 million Americans experienced some form of identity theft in 2014, resulting in a loss of $16 billion. Upon introducing it, he said: “The fact that this crime affects children, seniors, and veterans makes it even more imperative that the federal government does everything in its power to prevent identity theft.”

In a letter of endorsement to Rep. Valadao, Ed Cates – TSCL’s Chairman – wrote, “As you know, identity theft is a significant and growing problem, and older Americans are disproportionately affected since they rely heavily on paper mail carried by postal delivery services. Greater protection from identity theft is critical to our members and supporters nation-wide.”

TSCL enthusiastically supports the Social Security Fraud Prevention Act, and we look forward to working with Congressman Valadao to build support for it in the months ahead.